An edited version of this story was published on VICE US
After more than 600 people were killed nationwide on Wednesday 14th August, the inevitable “Day of Anger” was called for by the Muslim Brotherhood. Aggrieved by the massacre of its followers following the crackdown on its 6-week-old sit-ins in Rabba Al Adawiya and Nahda areas, they organised over 20 marches to converge on central Cairo’s Ramses Square as a show of defiance to the military ‘coup’ and its massacres against their supporters.
Egyptian Armed Forces prepared for the protests by upping their security presence. Armoured Personnel Carriers set up positions all around downtown Cairo. Tahrir Square, the iconic ‘heart’ of the 2011 revolution had no less than two APCs at each of the streets leading into and out of the square – an unthinkable scenario not two months ago. The day before the protests were due, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim officially permitted the use of live ammunition by Central Security Forces (CSF) were anyone to attack Governmental buildings.
The scene was set for an ineluctable extension of the bloodshed that Egypt has experienced since Mohamed Morsi’s deposition – at the time of writing, at least 100 people have lost their lives from today’s violence alone.
The protest in Ramses remained peaceful for all of an hour – highlighting the tinderbox like make-up of the political divergence. Generally accepted reports emerged of armed men attacking the nearby Asbakeya Police Station, thus triggering the violence. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest members staunchly deny any such act and claim that the police started firing without provocation.
“I have been here since the start, I tell you nobody did anything, they [the police] just attacked us…if anyone is shooting it is either police or counter-revolutionary thugs” claimed Mohamed Ali, a lifelong Muslim Brotherhood member.
The palpable change in atmosphere as one neared Ramses Square brought about a sickening anticipation. The questionable gunshots of before were now very real and very loud. A metronomic crack of a rifle rings out every 30 seconds or so, interrupting the drumming of the helicopters circling overhead. Every now and again, a short burst of heavy automatic fire can be heard. It’s impossible to know which direction the shooting was coming from, or who was doing it, but a group of men start anxiously pointing to a nearby bridge where a couple of APCs are parked. Still 200 metres from the Square, people were hugging the walls, crowding together behind the corners of buildings for cover.
“Do you see us?” cried Mohamed Ali, “Do you see any weapons? We are peaceful and they are killing us, these dogs”. A man across the streets starts a chant of “The Interior Ministry are thugs” and everyone echoes his sentiment with full voice.
Despite not seeing any firearms myself, weapons were apparent and were being used by some. Egyptian State TV widely broadcast Brotherhood members firing assault weapons on 15 May bridge during a march towards Ramses Square. Later, the State TV showed the on-going clashes under the running banner “Egypt Fighting Terrorism” apparently refusing to appreciate the existence of any nuance in the chaos.
Not five minutes after speaking to Mohamed Ali I stumbled across two men on the periphery of the Square who were assembling Molotov cocktails from two leftover crates filled with empty, glass, coke bottles, one carefully placing pre-cut cloth into each of the bottles while the other carefully inspected each one. They reprimanded me as I tried to take a photo and pointed instead towards the police. “Take a photo of them, they’re the killers”.
The closer you were to the square the faster people moved, shadowing the buildings for cover. A 63-year-old retired Engineer approached asking to borrow my pen. On his left forearm he began to write a phone number and above it, his name ‘Wael’. “It’s my family’s number, just in case I am killed,” he explained to me. “I am not a supporter of Mohamed Morsi you must understand, I am just anti-army and anti-coup. I was there in Rabaa when they killed everyone, how can anyone support such a regime after seeing that?”
Just past Al Ahmar hospital, about 50 metres south of Ramses Square the gunshots became so loud they sounded like they were being fired from next to me. After one such bang, a man some 10 metres in front of me stumbled. A 50p-sized hole had appeared in his upper left arm, blood squirting out. After two steps, he fell over and in less than 30 seconds had been scooped up; his wound bandaged and he was placed on a scooter that took him to another hospital.
Immediately, people rushed to the locked gates of the Al Ahmar hospital. “We are dying here!” They yelled to the doctors standing inside. One man started shaking the gates so violently others had to restrain him, but not before more gunshots were heard, sending the crowd running for better cover.
Across the country violent clashes had endured, acceding to the age-old maxim that ‘violence begets violence’ and questioning the Armed Forces reasoning, that cracking down on the sit-ins was the first step to stability and security. With every death, another martyr is made and the divide between the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood grows. At this pace, it is beginning to seem impossible that a peaceful reconciliation can be made anytime soon.